Better Questions for a Better Year

I meet with a small group of trusted friends – fellow travelers – once a month for the purpose of connection that surfaces learning and deepens insight. We create a space of mutual respect and loving friendship because we want to, most importantly, but also because our work as leaders, consultants, teachers and coaches demands that we expand our capacity proportionate to our desire to be of service.

For our most recent conversation, Alia Fitzgerald composed the following questions to help our reflections on the past year shape our aspirations for the year ahead:

  • What are the six words that best describe 2018? What would you like those words to be in 2019?
  • What were you a part of last year that you’ll remember for the rest of your life? What do you take away that you could apply to your wellbeing and success this year?
  • What commitment if achieved tomorrow would give you the greatest feeling of contentment, satisfaction or success?

There is too much to do and too much at stake for any of us to go it alone. Trusted friends and powerful questions are still the best recipe for setting the intentions that allow us to do our very best work, the work that is ours alone to do.

[HT to Molly Davis and Alia Fitzgerald]


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Follow the Breadcrumbs

Every time you speak and in every way that you act, you are telling us who you are, what you care about, how you are made. Consciously or not, you are always dropping a trail of breadcrumbs for yourself and others to follow that will lead to a deeper understanding of you.

I didn’t realize until just this week that for months now I have been using words and actions in a wide variety of ways to express my desire for more physical, literally hands-on expression. Planting, cooking, constructing, washing, assembling, painting and a yearning for the physical challenge of playing an instrument have all been clues to this mounting somatic desire.

A sharply focused lens on my words and actions these last six months would have made this obvious but I needed time to realize that there is a larger question emerging about how I will satisfy a need my body already understands but about which my mind is just becoming aware. Those breadcrumbs I’ve been dropping allowed me to follow the path back to myself.

This is worth discovering for yourself. A way to do so that is both revealing and connective is to find a trusted partner or small group and ask each person to respond to a provocative question: “Tell us a story about when you were at your best?” or “Describe an experience that challenged you and how you responded to it?” or “What’s something about you that is true today that you never imagined would be true?”

Once the question is answered, you might follow-up with, “And how is that relevant for you today?” or another inquiry that brings the insight forward.

The listener’s job in this conversation is to spot the breadcrumbs that emerge in the response and then feed them back to the speaker, asking what they make of having left this particular trail.

The breadcrumbs aren’t an answer in themselves, but they are a pathway into a larger conversation full of “questions that have no right to go away.”


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

[Author’s Note: “…questions that have no right to go away.” is the final line of the poem, Sometimes by David Whyte.]

The Scoreboard

For the better portion of my adult life I was convinced that there was a scoreboard and that I was always on the losing side.

I allowed the scoreboard to enable my perfectionism. This meant that I didn’t try things I couldn’t be great at right away; I didn’t create things for fear of criticism, comparison or being found out as a fraud.

I spent so much time staring at the scoreboard that I didn’t have any time left to look at myself. I had no idea how to do that.

And then a confluence of events created an opening for another way; a challenging professional opportunity and lots of difficult, necessary feedback put a crack in my facade, the one I had constructed to make up for my losing score.

That difficult feedback and the crack that came with it also came with an invitation for the kind of rigorous support that can repair the crack or at least contain its spread. Mentoring, counseling, friendship were made available to me in abundance for long enough that I could finally learn to mentor, counsel and befriend myself.

Here’s what I know: there was no scoreboard. There was only an adaptation to feelings of shame that led me to believe that I would not be, could not be, good enough.

But I was, and I am.

And so are you.

If you’re busy watching the score, please try to remind yourself that it’s not real; that there are good mentors, counselors and friends who will stand with you if you let them, and who will help you train your gaze on something much more worthy of your attention: your whole and healed self.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Equipped for Contact

Internal development – the decisions and actions you can freely take to dismantle the dictates of your past experiences – will always precede external awareness.

Your capacity to gracefully and constructively accept and engage with the external changes that come into your life is positively correlated to the degree to which you’ve done your internal work.

This is crucial to understand because every day you do not act upon this knowledge is another day you employ an operating model that was once relevant but is now obsolete.

Think of it this way: people were driving and crashing their cars for a long time before seat belts, safety glass and air bags showed up. Those inventions don’t prevent the crashes, they limit the human damage. What was once a sure fatality is now a few bruises and an insurance hassle.

Your internal work will equip you, just like those safety features, to make contact with change without it turning into a wreck. If it’s good enough for your car, surely it’s good enough for you.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

An Inside Job

I applaud every single person who says they want to get better at dealing with change.

I respect their acknowledgement that doing so will make a big, positive difference, not only to their peace of mind but in their ability to move through the world with greater ease, composure and confidence.

To those stout-hearted souls I offer this recommendation (if I am briefly allowed the presumption of having something of value to offer on the subject):

First, start within.

Begin with the assumption that your resistance or difficulty with change is a byproduct of your personal, necessary adaptations to life.

And then question those adaptations with vigorous curiosity;

“Is it still necessary for me to control every situation or is that a leftover from feeling out of control for so long?”

“Is it still necessary for me to dominate every conversation or is that a leftover from my not being heard?”

“Is it still necessary for me to shrink into the corner at the first sign of conflict or is that a leftover from being exposed to too much conflict?”

Your history is your history and it has deep, inherent value. Until it is reconciled in terms of who you are now and where you intend to go next, however, it will always remain an anchor on your forward progress.

Yes, yes, yes…devote yourself to greater capacity for both the quality and quantity of the changes you will face. And, please do not lose sight of the basic truth that there is no skill you can learn, seminar you can attend or guru you can follow who can capably replace your honest declaration of what you alone must first address.

It is always an inside job.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Regularly, Deeply Embarrassed

“Maturity begins with the capacity to sense and, in good time and without defensiveness, admit to our own craziness. If we are not regularly deeply embarrassed by who we are, the journey to self-knowledge hasn’t begun.”

– Alain de Botton


The post office was a mess today. Because, well, December 14.

I knew it as soon as I entered the parking lot and someone swooped into the spot that was clearly mine. That’s right! Mine!

The line for counter service was out the door and the line for self-service was shorter but disorganized and chaotic. A man leaving the store started blathering about how even though he’s a proud liberal democrat he still hates the government, his post office experience wringing out the last of his tolerance.

I didn’t even need to be there. Not really. The post office is located next to the library, a place I did need to go today and since I was close by I stopped in to mail an oversized envelope and buy some stamps. Nothing urgent and a big mistake.

One of the things that defines my own craziness is my flat refusal to bail out on lost cause situations like this one. I finish things, even when it makes no sense to do so (from a common sense, maintaining sanity perspective,  that is). The thought of having wasted the trip, the time, the energy…to park, to walk, to wait…it annoys me so much that I just don’t and won’t.

And the recorder in my head plays out the same call and response soundtrack every time: What is everyone’s problem? Why are you doing this to yourself? Why is everyone so awkward, slow and unprepared? Take a breath, welcome the opportunity for patience and understanding. I would happily be patient and understanding if this place weren’t a complete mess. I should just go. I’m not leaving until I get what I came for, etc.

This stubborn “stick it out at all cost” attitude isn’t my only brand of crazy, of course. I’ve written recently about my compulsion to make sure my car is pointed in the direction I’ll be going next; I must have the dishwasher loaded a certain way, my shirts folded a certain way; and for all of that anal retentiveness I will regularly complete things so quickly (so efficiently I tell myself) that I make and miss easily correctable mistakes. Yes, “regularly and deeply embarrassed.”

This is a great time of year to get in touch with your own crazy. Every anxiety is heightened, every situation more compressed, every responsibility hard up against the clock that tells us that the year is done. It’s a perfect time to take stock, feel a little embarrassed by our self-importance (not ashamed, mind you, but embarrassed) and have a self-deprecating laugh at it all.

I know that self-knowledge comes at a steep price. It is never found in the discount bin or the holiday close-out pile. It is always marked at full MSRP and it never, ever, includes free shipping or free returns. That’s the bad news.

The good news it that it’s always a perfect fit and is worth every penny you pay for it.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

 

Your Best Work

Your best work is the work that emerges from the use of your natural, cultivated and refined strengths.

I have learned to be good at all kinds of things in my life. I have adapted myself to many scenarios and found an ability to become successful in ways I wouldn’t normally expect to be.

I think of these abilities as my “learned strengths” and while I am gratified to make a contribution with them, doing so takes its toll on both my energy and my attitude.

When I employ my natural strengths, those born out of the core elements of my personality and burnished by experience, I have no energy loss and am able to maintain a positive attitude.

Understanding the difference between your natural strengths and your adaptive or learned strengths is less a question about how much impact you can have and more a question of how much you are willing to spend to make that impact.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

Try Again

“All I do know is as we age, the weight of our unsorted baggage becomes heavier. . . much heavier. With each passing year, the price of our refusal to do that sorting rises higher and higher. . . . Long ago, the defenses I built to withstand the stress of my childhood, to save what I had of myself, outlived their usefulness, and I’ve become an abuser of their once lifesaving powers. I relied on them wrongly to isolate myself, seal my alienation, cut me off from life, control others, and contain my emotions to a damaging degree. Now the bill collector is knocking, and his payment’ll be in tears.”

~ Bruce Springsteen. (Esquire, November 27, 2018)


The Boss writes of his inner work like he writes his music: “Now the bill collector is knocking, and his payment we’ll be in tears.” Are you kidding me? If that’s not a song, I don’t know what is.

I started negotiating with my bill collector at 35 years old. He had extended me all the credit I was going to get and it was time to reconcile…with interest.

Considering the freedom paying that debt has brought to my life – freedom, connection, openness – I only wish I had started sooner. And I know, cutting myself some much-needed slack, that I started when I was ready.

“Started” is an important term because it brings with it the implication of an ending. And with this work, there is no ending. There is only the opportunity to get honest about it, make friends with it, and in that friendship find a way to recognize those moments when the impulse to regress is so strong that you want nothing more than to say, “Yes, the old ways are easier and much more satisfying. I will revel in being wounded, resentful, fearful and isolated, wrapping myself in the comfort of that old tattered blanket.”

And then you remember that giving in to that impulse requires the endurance of a hangover so miserable that you feel as if you will never face the light of day again. So, you decline that option and decide instead to live a healed, generous, courageous and connected life.

You decide to try again.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

 

On Solid Ground

My friend and thought partner, Molly Davis, published a great piece on Monday in which she talks about the earth beneath our feet as the best source material we could ask for to live lives of hopeful expectation. She writes:

“That sense of the solid ground upon which to stand is the place from which we can dare to hope. And we can dare to hope because it isn’t our feet firmly planted that hold us up, but the holy ground upon which we stand.”

The imagery conjured up by her writing took me back to a talk I gave a couple of weeks ago. I was invited to keynote a gathering of undergraduate students who were assembled for an academic competition and convocation.

During the Q&A that followed I was asked about my preparation for a talk like the one I had just given. These students were going to stand in front of a room of judges the following day to deliver their prepared findings so effective presentation-making was very much on their minds.

I suggested to them that once the rituals of preparation and planning are complete; once you have done your research and your homework, collaborated with your partners on a design and gone through as many rehearsals and critiques as you can stand, that once all of that is done the final and most important thing you can do is to get out of your head and back into your body.

To have cognitive awareness of what you will present is the starting point, but to have somatic awareness is the place from which you can truly deliver the goods. Until you feel it in your body, what you present will just be a collection of words coming from your head.

I suggested a few things to help them get into this more robust kind of physical presence. First, that it is important ahead of time to spend some time in the space where you will be speaking. I told them that the reason I was already in the room when they arrived was because I was getting a feel for the space. It was not a room largely different from those I have presented in before but I had not presented in that particular room and wanted to build up my awareness of what it felt like. (Incidentally, I noticed a strong and very pleasing floral aroma in the room, as if the janitorial staff had used the greatest cleaning products ever made! This contributed to my sense of positive affect and energy. It was a perfect support system for my physical awareness.) 

Second, I suggested that it is important to just feel your feet on the floor, on the ground, on the earth. This kind of intentional inhabiting of space creates in me a grounded and humble confidence. It reminds me that “I am right here.” It reminds me that “I am supposed to be right here, right now with these two feet on this ground in this room.” It reminds me that “There are no mistakes or coincidences but only the truth that I am here and ready to share readily and generously with those kind enough to listen.”

Third, I suggested that it is important to feel your body. Amy Cuddy advocates for the “power stance,” hands boldly on the hips or raised high in victory formation. Others recommend scrunching the shoulders up to the ears and holding them there before a big, vigorous release and shake down of your entire bodily form. All of this physical effort is designed to join your head to your body, your head to your heart, more importantly. It’s a physical way to trick yourself into a “ready” position, a place the rest of us will experience as presence.

Finally, to bring it all the way back round to Molly’s contribution today, this work of physical readiness for real presence is the only stance from which it is possible to be the ideas, the possibilities, the hopefulness you are trying to convey. You want us to believe you, to believe in you. We want to believe you, to believe in you. You’ll get us part way there with your thoughtful preparation and articulate delivery. You’ll bring us all the way home when you convey the power that can only be made real when you start with two feet on solid ground.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

A Week of Thanks: Day 5

fullsizeoutput_1a86I am thankful to walk among giants.

I am thankful for my teachers.

Only a cursory mental review yields too many to name, too many to count, even. The guides, mentors, instructors, influencers who have shaped my life, both head and heart.

Each made a mark at a key moment in my development that was some combination of generous, challenging, loving, corrective and insightful. Each made me stop and reconsider, often with deep resistance, but ultimately with appreciation.

Jim Shepard, my high school choral director, shaped my raw talent into something that I could offer as a soloist and, more importantly, as part of an ensemble. His kind encouragement prepared me for a very different kind of teacher, Paul Salamunovich, for whom I sang in college and of whom, at least in the early going, I was deeply afraid. Paul was demanding in a way I had not experienced it. He was also exceedingly generous because he lived in service of making the most beautiful music possible.

These early experiences as a team member were essential for someone whose learned inclination is to go it alone. They showed me what was possible when preparation, listening, attention, awareness, feedback and practice were fully lived. They gave me the tangible, concrete evidence I needed that any group of people, wholly committed to both the journey and the destination, can create something of soaring significance and meaning.

This learning in my teens and early twenties, was the ignition point for what would become my vocation. Jim and Paul co-planted the seeds that would bloom into not only a desire but a need to see the disciplines of choral music lived out in leadership and organizational life. I couldn’t have told you that then and I barely appreciate now how true a statement it is!

This is why the work of David Whyte found such fertile ground in me. I was prepared, having been shaped by music, to receive his application of poetry and philosophy to the corporate landscape in his book, The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America. It so arrested me that I remember reading it and having my ‘Eureka!’ moment. “This is it,” I said to myself with the turn of every page. Like borrowing a warm winter coat when all you’ve got is a wind breaker, I took his teaching and made it my own. When I finally had the chance to meet him a few years later, I approached with caution as if trying not to break a spell. I handed over my copy of his book for him to sign and as I did, expressed as best I could just how much it had and was continuing to shape my work. It was a ‘coming full circle’ moment and his graciousness and appreciation lifted me even higher.

In the everyday work of inexpertly applying David’s ideas to my particular organizational experience, I was shaped by the guiding hands of a quartet of ‘advisors’ on whose intellectual and emotional generosity I feasted. Blake McHenry, Cal Harrah, Marlene Laping and Gary Heil kindly and earnestly pushed, pulled, cajoled, enlivened, and exasperated me. I can only imagine their own exasperation at once again encountering the face of my ignorance, struggling to catch-on and keep up. But they never showed it and were steadfastly kind and supportive. Whatever we accomplished in those years is directly attributed to the guiding hands of their influence.

All of this provided me with enough equity, eventually…slowly, to move on to the new experience of starting my own business. And is it continues to grow, taking on dimensions I did not imagine it could, I look back at just this short list of teachers – there are so many more – and offer my deepest appreciation for taking me by the hand and leading me to the deeper water.

I am thankful to stand among giants.

I am thankful for my teachers.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.